Study Guide

The Year of Billy Miller Quotes

  • Family

    "I wish I could go to school," said Sal.

    "You will," said Papa. "Soon enough."

    "I wish I could go now," said Sal.

    "I wish you could go for me," said Billy.

    "Go, go, go," said Papa. "Everybody go."

    And they—Billy, Papa, Sal, and the Drop Sisters—were off to Georgia O'Keeffe Elementary School in Constant, Wisconsin. (1.2.9-14)

    When it comes to family, the Millers are a close-knit bunch. Did you notice how there are even some stuffed animals thrown into the mix? Yep, even Sal's plush pets, the Drop Sisters, get to be part of the fam. Now that's one inclusive family unit. Plus, Sal loves her big brother so much that she even wants to go to school just like him. Right off the bat, we know that this family knows how to stick together.

    "Hi, Lumpy," Ned said to Billy. He laughed. "Hi, Papa." He ignored Sal. […]

    "Don't call him Papa," said Sal. "He's not your papa. You should call him Cliff."

    Ned paid no attention to Sal.

    Ned always called Billy's father Papa. Billy thought this was funny, but it bothered Sal. Ned called his own father Dad; everyone Billy knew called their own fathers Dad. When he was little, Ned had thought that Papa was a name like Billy or Cliff or Sal. (1.2.16, 18-20)

    Ned has a unique relationship with Billy's dad. Instead of calling him by his first or last name, Ned calls Mr. Miller "Papa" just like Billy and Sal. Do you think this makes Mr. Miller part of Ned's family? How so? Is it the name that makes the family, or is it something else?

    Mama entered the kitchen. "What's going on in here?" she asked. She tucked her red marking pencil behind her ear, which made Billy think of Ms. Silver's chopsticks.

    Papa whisked past Mama, tapping her on the shoulder. "Tag team," he said. "Your turn." He disappeared out the back door. (2.2.43-44)

    Mama and Papa Miller really know how to look out for one another—these parents are quite the duo and they know just how to show the other some support. Take a look at how Mama steps in for Papa when he's frustrated with all the diorama-making. Cleaning up might not be the most fun task in the world, but she's ready to "tag team" it so that she can help out her hubby. And that's seriously sweet. In what other ways do you see Billy's parents acting as a team?

    "I was just giving you fairies," said Sal.

    The urge to hit or pinch Sal was overwhelming. With laser eyes, Billy stared right through his sister. Underneath Sal's dense, dark curls clipped with a panda barrette and her lacy pastel nightgown, Billy saw the enemy. Why couldn't he have had a brother instead? (2.3.44-45)

    Watch out folks, Billy has entered the dark side. When Sal sprinkles glitter into his diorama, our main man starts to see red and then some. Sure, Sal might not look like a typical villain with her nightgown and a panda clip in her hair, but Billy has her pegged as Enemy Number One. In fact, appearances don't matter to him one bit—it's all about her actions and they've put her in the dog house.

    They worked in unison like one big machine. Papa scooped up Sal, secured her in her car seat, put the diorama in the front seat next to him, waited for Billy to get in the back next to Sal and buckle his seat belt, and started off to school. (2.3.72)

    This family sure knows how to work together, so it's no surprise that they work as a unit to get Billy to school on time with diorama in hand. What do you think of the "machine" metaphor? How is this family like a machine? And is that a positive thing?

    Billy Miller hated his sister. At least, right now he did. Sal was crying—wailing, really—so loudly that Billy had gone to his room, shut the door, flung himself on his bed, and buried his head under his pillow. The crying continued and Billy could not escape it. (3.1.1)

    Siblings can be the worst—the absolute worst—and when Sal is crying like there's no tomorrow, Billy has just about had it. In fact, the narrator uses a pretty strong word to talk about how Billy feels towards his little sis: "hate." What do you think of this word? In what ways does Billy's hate change his relationship with his sis? Are there any ways in which his temporary hate turns out to be a good thing in the end?

    Sal's night-light was so bright that the yellow walls in her room glowed like the inside of a jack-o'-lantern and had an instant calming effect on Billy. The only visible part of Sal among her pillows, the Drop Sisters, and her messy blanket was her snarl of dark curls, but it was a familiar snarl and Billy's heart slowed down; his breathing steadied. (3.4.1)

    Billy has been mad at his sister a lot, but sometimes she can also be the best. Did you notice that she doesn't even have to do anything here to calm Billy down? After he's freaked himself out by imagining a monster under his bed, Billy goes in search of Sal and just seeing her makes him feel way better. Aw.

    He hoped that Mama and Papa did go away overnight again for a long time. When they were both gone, the air in the house was harder to breathe, somehow. (3.5.40)

    When Billy's parents drive to Chicago for the night, he and Sal are bumming hard. Sal chooses to cry her way through the early evening, but Billy lets us know he misses his parents in a totally different way: by saying that it's harder to breathe when his parents are gone. Pretty powerful description, right?

    "The poem can be about a parent or a brother or a sister or a grandma or an uncle or someone who helps your family like a good friend, because all families are different." Billy took a breath. (4.1.15)

    When Billy has to pick a family member to write his poem about, he's got quite a few people to choose from. Plus, Ms. Silver says that family is actually a pretty flexible term, because every family has its own distinct look. So that means Billy has even more to think about when choosing his special family member. How do you think the Millers are different from other families? And how are they the same?

    He scanned the crowd for Mama, and he saw her instantly. She was right at the foot of the stage. Their eyes connected, and he knew that she'd been watching him. She'd heard him, even without the microphone on. She was smiling and nodding.

    Explosions like little volcanoes were going off inside him. He felt wonderful. Maybe he'd never felt better. (4.5.72-75)

    By the time we reach the end of this book, we've seen a lot of special moments between the Miller family members, but this one might just take the cake. After Billy finishes reciting his poem from memory into the silent mic, all he wants is to find Mama. Did you notice how they don't even need to exchange words here? Mama just smiles and nods, and Billy knows how much she loves him.

  • Education

    It was the first day of second grade and Billy Miller was worried. He was worried that he wouldn't be smart enough for school this year. (1.1.1)

    Right from the start, we learn that school can be a worrisome place—and it's not any easier with that big ol' lump on Billy's head. In fact, that lump has Billy wondering just how good he'll be at second grade, and whether he'll end up a total failure in the end (cue foreboding music).

    After several long strides, Billy heard the joyful, rowdy sounds of his schoolmates, and was drawn to them as if he were being pulled by a strong invisible force. When they reached the edge of the playground, Billy turned around. Papa, Sal, and Amy were more than a block away. He and Ned waved good-bye and then plunged into a noisy group of kids charging around the playground like a pack of dogs. (1.2.26)

    Even though Billy is nervous about school, you just can't keep this kid away from the place. When he and Ned arrive for the first day, not only have they ditched their parents, but they're diving straight into the playground, too. What do you think about this contrast between Billy's major nerves and his desire to jump right into school? We're thinking it has something to do with that "strong invisible force" pulling him in.

    Billy couldn't concentrate on schoolwork. His mission filled his mind. He wondered when he should put the silver things on Ms. Silver's desk. […]

    When she came to Billy's table, she leaned forward and extended the nest across the tabletop as if she were offering a bowl of snacks. Billy's eyes went right to Ms. Silver's chopsticks, which were mere inches from him. Then he tried to catch her eye and smile at her, but she was focused on the nest. (1.5.14, 17)

    Sometimes for Billy, school is less about learning the lesson and more about impressing his teacher. Billy is afraid that he accidentally insulted Ms. S—and that's a big no-no in his book—so while he should be focusing on the bird's nest that Ms. Silver is showing the class, all our guy can think about is proving that he's a nice dude. Looks like school is about more than memorization and homework in this book.

    "Do you think I'm smart enough for second grade?"

    "Oh, Billy. Absolutely. Yes." She paused. "Are you worried about something?"

    He told her his story—about falling—and he showed her his lump.

    "Your bump is nearly gone," said Ms. Silver.

    "The doctor said when I fell I protected myself."

    "Well, that was smart of you," said Ms. Silver in a voice that was clear and kind. "You are very smart." (1.5.55-60)

    Ms. Silver sure knows how to make Billy feel better. Second grade might be scary, but having an awesome teacher makes all the difference. And Ms. S is one awesome teacher. Did you notice that she doesn't just tell Billy that he's smart enough for second grade, but she provides evidence, too? She's got encouragement in the bag and the know-how to make her support count.

    He said, "Mica sparkles like jewels. It is a mineral in caves. It's like glitter."

    Billy had been looking down as he spoke, but when he had nothing else to say, he raised his eyes, connecting with Ms. Silver's. She was in the far corner of the room sitting casually on the window ledge, holding a clipboard.

    Ms. Silver nodded approval, and Billy felt proud. He also felt a surge of relief when he was done. Back with his tablemates, he sank into his chair, loose and slack as a rag doll. (2.4.2-4)

    We're sensing a bit of a trend for Billy: He might feel like awesome-sauce one minute, but then he'll feel like a big ol' puddle the next. And when he shares his diorama in front of the class, he goes from "proud" to "rag doll" pretty quickly. What do you think of this contrast? And what does this tell us about Billy's attitude toward school?

    "Ms. Silver told us about the Year of the Dragon today. The Chinese New Year started on Monday. It's different than our New Year because theirs is lunar, which means the moon," Billy explained. "We didn't do anything special at school for the Year of the Rabbit, so Ms. Silver had a dragon party today. We ate tangerines because they're a symbol of good luck. And we watched Chinese dancers on the computer."

    Billy paused, trying to remember everything Ms. Silver had taught them. "The dragon can have the head of a donkey and the body of a snake. Or it can just be a dragon." (3.2.12-13)

    Okay, is it just us or does a dragon party at school sound really fun? Plus, we can tell that Billy is learning and excited about school because he's recounting all of the facts to Sal and Gabby over dinner. And even though Sal doesn't get to go to school yet and Gabby is way older, they learn some new info from Billy, which is pretty cool. Looks like learning doesn't just have to happen in the classroom.

    "Well, this year Ms. Silver wants to do a show for the end of the year. But not a play like The Three Billy Goats Gruff or The Emperor's New Clothes, because she's done that before."

    Papa nodded.

    "She wants to do something original. With poetry." Billy didn't particularly like poetry, except funny poetry, but that wasn't the problem. "Everyone has to write a poem about someone in their family. Ms. Silver said the show would be called Family or Room 2 Families or something like that." (4.1.11-13)

    When it comes to school, Ms. Silver knows how to get creative. She's always giving her students projects to do, like drawing pictures or making dioramas or writing poems. Can you think of other ways that Ms. S gets creative in the classroom?

    Ms. Silver gave everyone in Room 2 a new notebook. "These are your poetry journals," she told them. "We'll use them to write our poems for our show. Then you can keep them to use over the summer. For writing or drawing or whatever you want. But, I hope you'll continue to think about poetry even when school is done for the year." (4.2.3)

    Looks like Ms. Silver has a theory: Learning doesn't stop over the summer. Nope, this teacher wants her students' education to last all year long. And one way for that to happen is for them to use their poetry notebooks during their lazy days on vacation. So there's just one question left: Do you think Billy keeps using his over the summer?

    "I have an idea," said Ms. Silver. "I think you should take your journal home tonight. You should ask your mom what she likes." […]

    "Okay," said Billy. His eyes shifted down to his volcano drawings. He wasn't fond of homework in general, but it seemed even worse now that it was so close to the end of the school year. His mind was already focusing on summer vacation. (4.2.32-33)

    So remember how Ms. S was really excited about the idea that her students would keep thinking about poetry during the summer? Well think again, Ms. S, because according to Billy, homework is just about the worst thing ever. And so close to summer it's the absolute pits. Billy's attitude is understandable (we've all had summer-itis before), but it also reminds us that teachers and students can have pretty different views about how and when learning goes down.

    "Thank you, everyone," said Ms. Silver. "We accomplished a lot this year—not just putting on this marvelous show." […]

    "We studied and learned so much," Ms. Silver continued. "We worked hard." She smiled and raised one hand up near her heart. (4.5.65, 67)

    If you ask Ms. Silver, she thinks Room 2 has had a pretty spiffy year in second grade. And she's not making it all about herself either. Did you notice that Ms. Silver uses the word we a lot? Sounds to us like she thinks this whole learning thing is a group adventure.

  • Identity

    "Ms. Silver and the great nation of China might think that this is the Year of the Rabbit," said Papa. "But I know—and I know everything—that this is the year of Billy Miller." (1.1.37)

    Since this book is all about Billy, it's no surprise that it has us thinking a lot about his identity. Sure, he's only in second grade, but he's already realizing that he's a pretty complex dude. And Papa definitely wants this to be a year chock-full of self-discovery. So when he says that this is "the year of Billy Miller," we're thinking he wants his kid to really focus on growing into his unique second-grader self.

    Lately Billy had considered calling Papa "Dad" in public. He wondered if the word Papa sounded babyish. It was one thing for Ned to use it for fun, but another thing for Billy to use it for real. (1.2.19)

    Here's the deal: Identity isn't just something that happens inside our heads. It's also something that is seriously impacted by the way others think of us. And lately Billy's been wondering how his identity appears to other folks around town. He sees himself as a full-grown kid and being "babyish" is just about the worst offense ever. Keep an eye out for how using different names for his dad impacts Billy's identity over the course of this tale.

    "Maybe one day you'll want to be called something else."

    Billy tilted his head. "Huh?"

    "Maybe one day you'll want us to call you Bill. Or William."

    "No," said Billy. "I'm Billy. Promise to always call me Billy."

    Papa tugged on his beard again. "I promise to always call you what you want to be called."

    "Billy," said Billy. (2.4.36-41)

    Names have a lot to do with identity (more on this over in the "Symbols" section). While it's tough for Billy to imagine wanting a different name, Papa knows that folks change over time, and that means their preferred name can, too. So even though Billy can't see that far into the future yet, Papa is giving us a clue that new names might just be part of growing into a more mature version of yourself.

    "They're dioramas!" said Billy. He grinned. "I helped you—I gave you the idea."

    "You did," said Papa, smiling. "And I thank you." […]

    Billy felt taller somehow. Bigger. Shiny, even. He'd never helped Papa in such an important way before. (2.5.16-17, 18)

    Helping out his dad makes Billy feel great. In fact, it has a huge impact on his sense of self. Check out how he physically feels different, as if he's a brand new size. And what do you think of the idea that Billy is now "shiny"? What might that mean? We've got a hunch that it's a good thing.

    "Check out this one," said Papa. He directed Billy's attention to the box at the corner of his worktable.

    It was a face—a realistic-looking one—with green sea-glass eyes, coils of wire for hair, and an intricate arrangement of small pieces of wood for skin.

    "I'm not done with it yet," said Papa.

    Suddenly the face came into clear focus. In wonder, Billy said, "It's me!" (2.5.20-23)

    When Papa starts making dioramas, we just know they're going to be cool—come on, the guy put arms on a cello once so his dioramas have got to be rad. But what makes these dioramas even more awesome is that some of them end up as portraits of the Miller family. And first up is Billy. Interestingly, Billy doesn't recognize himself right away. What do you think of this? How do you think he finally figures out that the picture is of him?

    He told himself he could do this. He felt a shiver of excitement, then a buzzy sensation. If he made it through the night without sleeping, He'd be a different person, somehow. A more important person. (3.3.18)

    Billy has a theory: If he can pull an all-nighter, he'll be a "more important" dude. And that tells us that he thinks sleeping (or, well, not sleeping at all) could have a serious impact on his identity. What do you think of this theory? Why would pulling an all-nighter make Billy more important? Plus, let's not forget that our guy ends up snoozing for most of the night. Do you think that failing at his all-nighter mission has an effect on his identity?

    "Does your mom like volcanoes?" asked Ms. Silver. "I know you like volcanoes."

    "Well…" said Billy. "She might." He blinked rapidly.

    "I have an idea," said Ms. Silver. "I think you should take your journal home tonight. You should ask your mom what she likes. You could make a list of things." (4.2.30-32)

    When it comes to identity, it's not just about figuring out our own sense of self. It's also about learning what makes other people's identities unique. And for Billy, that means realizing that while he might love volcanoes like nobody's business, his mom just might like something else (she does). And poetry might be just the ticket for learning about how his mom's identity is actually interesting as all get-out.

    He read his poem into the microphone from beginning to end in a voice that was made so big and loud and wide it seemed to bounce beyond the walls of school, reaching to the world outside, to the moon. […]

    The next thing he knew he was in the hallway behind the stage, enveloped in Mama's arms. On the stage, it was as if he'd been separated from his body, and now he'd caught up with himself. Everything was back to normal. (4.5.48, 50)

    For Billy, being on stage is a totally trippy experience. In fact, he doesn't really feel like himself when he's up there, since it's like he's "separated from his body." Do you think this is a negative depiction or a positive one? Is it a problem for Billy that he feels funky on stage? Or does that turn out to be a good experience in the long run?

    "Our school year overlapped with the Chinese Year of the Rabbit and the Year of the Dragon. But I like to think of this as the Year of Room Two." (4.5.67)

    Identities aren't always just about individuals, and being part of a group can be important when it comes to forming your identity. When Ms. Silver is making her final speech after the Room 2 end-of-year show, she knows that the whole year has been one big group effort. Sure, Billy might think of this year as the "year of Billy Miller," but Ms. S thinks it's about the whole stinking class.

    And then, because he felt so good, and because he could not stop himself, he leaned into the silent microphone and exclaimed in a voice meant just for Mama, "This is the Year of Billy Miller." (4.5.76)

    Right from the start of this book (well, even from the title), we know that Billy Miller is going to have a big year. And he sure does think a lot about his sense of self during the course of second grade. What do you think about this moment when Billy declares that this has been his year? It has us remembering how Papa first said this quote, and now Billy's saying it about himself. You might even say he's taken control of all this identity-hunting that he's been doing.

  • Compassion and Forgiveness

    Later, when the students were writing and drawing in their new journals, Emma said to Billy, "Maybe you should write that you're in second grade so you don't forget."

    Billy took two red markers from the bin in the middle of the table. Using both hands, he held up the markers on his head as if they were the fiery horns of a devil. Then he stared at Emma with the meanest expression he could manage. (1.3.24-25)

    Let's be real: Billy doesn't have a ton of compassion for Emma at the start of this book. And she feels the same about him. In fact, they seem to hate each other from the get-go. We've got a feeling it's not going to be an easy road for these two, and it'll take some major changes for them to start acting nicely. And maybe some good old-fashioned bribery.

    His plan was to leave the silver items on Ms. Silver's desk. The gifts would be a way to show her that he was a nice person. He didn't think he could find the words to explain to her what he'd been doing with the red markers. He hoped this gesture would take care of the situation. (1.5.3)

    When Billy is worried that he's accidentally insulted Ms. Silver during class, he needs to find a way to prove that he's a good dude. And stat. But even though he wants to earn his teacher's forgiveness, this guy is also looking for a way that doesn't require much in the talking department. So Billy's hoping that some silver doodads will show Ms. S that he's a nice bloke with a good ol' heart.

    Ms. Silver took the items and held them in both hands the way she'd held the nest. "Are these for me?" she asked.

    Billy inclined his head shyly and softened his voice to a whisper. "I'm really a nice person," he said. He couldn't look at her but he could feel her eyes upon him like a net. His heart was thrumming.

    "I can tell you're a nice person," she said.

    Billy sighed.

    "A very nice person."

    Billy felt great relief. (1.5.41-46)

    Since Billy's been hoping that his silver gift would let Ms. Silver know he's a kind guy, you can bet he's happy when it works. Huzzah. Plus, Ms. S seems like a seriously compassionate lady—if she was insulted when Billy teased Emma, then she sure isn't holding it against Billy one bit.

    "I was just giving you fairies," said Sal.

    The urge to hit or pinch Sal was overwhelming. With laser eyes, Billy stared right through his sister. Underneath Sal's dense, dark curls clipped with a panda barrette and her lacy pastel nightgown, Billy saw the enemy. Why couldn't he have had a brother instead? (2.3.44-45)

    Okay, so Billy isn't always the nicest. Sure, Sal really ticked him off when she put glitter on his diorama, but he feels angry as can be about it. Just check out the way he describes his little sis as "the enemy." Now that's pretty extreme. Looks like compassion has flown out the window for this big bro.

    Billy didn't know what to say. He didn't want to hurt Papa's feelings. "Well—" he began. "I'm in second grade now. Nobody says Papa." His voice clouded. "It's babyish." (2.4.33)

    Billy has a big task ahead of him when he asks his dad if he can start calling him by a new name. Did you notice Billy's tone in this quote? It looks like he knows that this convo has the potential to be a tough one. Gosh, it might even make his dad feel bad. But being compassionate doesn't always mean that Billy backs down from a challenge. Instead, our guy steps up to the plate, says his piece, and tries to be as nice as he can.

    Billy took the pillowcase, filled it with clothes from Sal's dresser, and bound the open end with one of her stretchy hair bands, twisting it around and around. He'd left several inches of cloth at the end; he fanned it out. "This is the tail," he said.

    Then he pushed and pulled and fluffed the stuffed pillowcase until it pleased him. "There," he said. "It's a whale. A big one."

    "It is," said Sal. "Who is it?"

    "This is—" Billy said, thinking fast. "This is—Coughdrop. He's the Drop Sisters' cousin. He usually lives at the aquarium. But he's here for a visit.

    "Coughdrop," said Sal, smiling. "I love him. Make him say something." (3.4.42-46)

    Oh boy, Sal can really push her brother's buttons. But sometimes he knows how to be the most compassionate big brother around, too. And when he wants to stay up all night, he's got even more reasons to be nice to his little sis so that she can be his partner in crime. Do you think Billy's motives impact his compassion here? Is he only being nice to meet his goal? Or does his kindness say something bigger about his personality?

    He tore a piece of paper from the notebook in his backpack and wrote a letter to put in the envelope and mail.

    The letter said:

    Dear Sal,
    Will make it to morning next time. Your ok.
    Your brother,
    Billy

    He knew that she couldn't read the letter by herself, but he thought she'd like it anyway. (3.5.41-43)

    Okay, now Billy really has become Mr. Nice Guy. He's spent a decent chunk of time thinking, well, not the nicest thoughts about his little sis, but somehow Sal has become a pretty special person in his life and he wants to show her that. And we've got a feeling that Sal's going to think this letter is the coolest thing ever. Cross your fingers Billy remembers to stick it the mail later.

    "The problem is that we're supposed to write about one person, and that one person can be with us on the stage. But only one. So I have to choose. . . ." […]

    "I don't think having Sal on stage with a microphone would be a good idea," said Papa. "She might do something—unexpected." Papa blinked. "I think you should limit your choice to Mama or me."

    "Is that okay?" asked Billy. It seemed that excluding Sal was like lying somehow. And it felt strange to have Papa suggest it. (4.1.17, 20-21)

    When Billy has to pick one family member to write his poem about, his top priority is not hurting anyone's feelings. And he wants to make sure that Sal doesn't feel like she's not part of the party (yep, this is the same kid who couldn't stand his littler sister's crying). Billy even seems hesitant about excluding Sal from the whole poem process.

    It would be easier to write a poem about a boy (Papa), but Billy thought the whole thing would make Mama happier. She even taught poetry. Also, Papa volunteered at Billy school sometimes and went on field trips, and Mama never could because she was teaching. This would be a way to make up for that.

    Billy still felt uncomfortable about choosing one over the other, so he'd come up with a plan so that Papa wouldn't know he'd made a deliberate choice. His plan was to have Mama and Papa each pick a number from one to ten. Instead of having a particular number in mind and writing it down, he'd wait for Mama and Papa to say their numbers, and then, no matter what number Mama chose, he would declare it the winner.

    It wouldn't be fair, but that way Papa wouldn't have his feelings hurt. (4.1.30-32)

    Billy is making some really grown-up decisions here. He's trying to please everyone in his family, and find a way not to hurt anyone's feelings, plus he really thinks through his decision. We're talking major step-by-step plans here. He's working hard to be as compassionate as can be.

    Emma leaned toward Billy and stared at his drawing. She made a sour face and said, "Why did you draw an instrument? For your information, we're not having a musical concert."

    Billy moved his drawing closer to his chest and tightened his grip on his marker. After months of sitting by her, Billy had learned that the best way to deal with Emma was to ignore her. But in his private thoughts, he said, "For your information, mind your own business." (4.4.20-21)

    Back at the beginning of the book, Emma really got under Billy's skin. So now it's the end of the book and, well, she still annoys him like whoa. But the way Billy deals with his annoyance has gone from night to day. Earlier he made fun of her back, but now this guy just keeps his mouth shut and keeps his thoughts to himself.

  • Time

    "Ms. Silver and the great nation of China might think that this is the Year of the Rabbit," said Papa. "But I know—and I know everything—that this is the year of Billy Miller." (1.1.37)

    Papa knows that time matters. And in this book, it's all about years. Well, a single year, to be exact. Sure, the title is a dead giveaway that this book is going to be all about time, but Papa reminds us that it's how we define our time that makes it matter a whole lot more. So when he says this year is all about his son, the great Billy Miller, you can bet he's helping Billy to see time in a whole new light.

    Things were changing. The light was different. The trees throughout the neighborhood were turning. Every day it seemed the leaves were more colorful, as if someone had taken a paintbrush to them during the night. There was a cool edge in the air and, lately, an edge to Papa, too. (2.1.1)

    Time means change. Now it's later in the fall, and that means the weather sure is starting to become chilly. But it's not just the weather that changes over time in this book, it's the people, too. Did you notice how Billy compares the changing seasons to changes in his dad? And let's be honest, it doesn't sound like the best shift ever. In fact, it sounds to us like Papa is being a little colder and meaner, just like the outdoor weather. What do you think of this comparison? Are there other characters whose moods mimic the seasons?

    He tapped the diorama and watched his bat jiggle. As the day had worn on, Billy had grown more fond of his project. The illusion that his bat was hovering in midair was what gave him a small thrill and a little shot of pride. When Billy stared at his trembling bat, all the imperfections disappeared. (2.3.1)

    Time has some healing powers, which makes Billy pretty happy here. Billy wasn't feeling too hot about his diorama. Okay we'll level with you: he was way far super deep down in the dumps about it. But give the kid a day and he'll perk right back up. And that makes time Billy's best friend ever.

    "Isn't the snow pretty?" asked Gabby. "It's so feathery. Like snow in a movie."

    "It's furry," said Billy, staring out the window.

    When he'd stepped out of the house, it was as if a curtain of peacefulness had fallen over the neighborhood. It was quiet. The air smelled wet and white. (3.1.25-27)

    Winter is peaceful in Constant, Wisconsin, and things are looking pretty placid outside. Check out the adjectives used to describe this new season: "pretty," "feathery," "furry," "quiet," "wet," and "white." How do you think these descriptions work together? Do they paint a picture that is positive? Are there any downsides to this new season?

    "Ms. Silver told us about the Year of the Dragon today. The Chinese New Year started on Monday. It's different than our New Year because theirs is lunar, which means the moon," Billy explained. (3.2.12)

    When it comes to calendars, we've got a nice variety in this book. And Ms. S has taught Billy about a super cool calendar based on the Chinese New Year. One thing that makes this calendar extra special is that each year is identified with a different animal. What else does Billy learn about the Chinese calendar in this book? And how do you think this calendar helps Billy to think about time differently?

    "Wait—you said one more hand."

    "Okay," said Gabby. "A quick one."

    During their final hand, Billy held back from playing certain cards when he could have won prolonging the game as long as possible. But soon Gabby was the winner and he was off to bed. (3.3.12-14)

    Billy has a plan to stay up all night, so he tries to drag out his time with Gabby as much as he can. But this babysitter isn't about to fall for his sneaky tricks. Plus, this isn't the only place where Billy tries to become Master of Time. Can you think of other moments where Billy tries to control the way time passes? And does he ever succeed?

    She reached greedily for the pearl. […]

    "If you can stay up all night with me, it's yours," said Billy.

    "Why?" asked Sal.

    Billy explained the importance of his idea. He finished by reminding her, "We've never even made it to midnight on New Year's Eve." (3.4.8, 12-14)

    Billy and Sal agree on one thing: Time is important. And when it comes to staying up until midnight, that's a milestone these siblings haven't hit yet. So Billy convinces his little sis that it's time for them to take matters into their own hands and pull an all-nighter. Sure, Sal needs some extra motivation with the pearl, but we can tell that Billy thinks staying up late is actually a really big deal.

    The month of May had been so hot and dry, Billy wondered if the whole town would shrivel up. The blistering day he came home from school with his problem Sal was sitting in the shade on the front porch holding a bag of frozen blueberries against her skin to keep cool. Billy could tell that she'd also been eating the blueberries because her fingers and face were stained purple. (4.1.1)

    All of a sudden that feathery snow we learned about earlier in the book is sounding pretty wonderful… but Sal and Billy are stuck finding creative ways to stay cool now that it's May. And for Sal that means eating frozen blueberries. The cool thing is that while this book tracks the passage of time, we also get to learn extra tidbits about our characters. And based on Sal's blueberry-stained skin, we know that she would rather stay cool in this heat than be a neat freak about her frozen fruit party.

    "Okay," said Billy. His eyes shifted down to his volcano drawings. He wasn't fond of homework in general, but it seemed even worse now that it was so close to the end of the school year. His mind was already focusing on summer vacation. (4.2.33)

    Timing is everything when it comes to homework, and according to Billy, summertime is just about the worst time in the history of time for homework to happen. So when Ms. Silver assigns him some poetry homework when summer is just a short while away, he's not in the right mindset at all. How else do you think the time of year impacts Billy's attitude toward school?

    "Only six more days of school," Ned said gleefully.

    "Six more days," said Billy.

    "Six more days," Papa echoed, shaking his head. "Where did the year go?"

    Billy and Ned swung their arms dramatically, lifted their knees high, and jutted their chins. They marched and chanted through the still, heavy air. "Six more days! Six more days!" (4.5.15-18)

    By the time the school year is over, it seems to have just flown by. The funny thing is that at the beginning of second grade, the whole year ahead seemed pretty daunting. But before Billy knows it, there are only six days left of school. What do you figure the characters think about the way time has passed in this book? It sounds to us like Billy and Ned are seriously thrilled. But what about Papa? What does his tone sound like?

  • Art and Culture

    Papa was an artist. He was waiting for a breakthrough. That's what he always said. He was currently working on big sculptures made of found objects. Pieces of old machines, tree limbs, and broken furniture filled the garage and spilled out onto the driveway. They were scattered across the yard, too. Billy loved watching Papa work. (1.1.26)

    Sounds like art is a hodge-podge event around the Miller house. Papa loves making art and he's not putting too many rules in place—instead he likes to work with odds and ends from all over, and it turns out that he makes some seriously unique art. Plus, keep an eye out for how art becomes a cool bonding experience for Billy and his pops.

    "Does any of this speak to you?" Papa asked. He rotated the driftwood in his hands, eyeing it critically. "Any ideas how your old Papa can turn these lovely bits of rummage into art?" (1.4.32)

    Papa can be a poetic guy. When he looks at the pieces he's collected from the local garbage dump, he doesn't call them trash—nope, he dubs them "lovely bits of rummage." What do you think of Papa's tone here? Does he sound sarcastic to you, or is he being sincere? And what makes this rummage "lovely" anyway? Let's hope Billy has some answers.

    "I like it," said Billy. "What is it?"

    "Good question," Papa replied.

    Before them stood the broken-down cello Papa had found at the dump. He'd attached four store-mannequin arms to the cello, two on each side.

    "It looks like the cello is playing itself," said Billy.

    Papa nodded thoughtfully.

    "And it sort of reminds me of a spider," said Billy. (2.1.21-26)

    If you ask us, Billy seems like a pretty great art critic. He dives right into interpreting Papa's new creations, like the four-armed cello in the garage. And we're totally on board with what Billy has to say. In fact, looking at Papa's art has us realizing that Billy is a really creative guy, too. Maybe he takes after his old man more than he knows.

    Billy had been so focused on his own diorama, wrapped in a cocoon of concentration, that he hadn't paid much attention to Ned's or Sal's. When he finally checked them out, a sinking feeling took hold of him.

    Papa had helped Ned make an ocean from different shades of blue tissue paper, which he'd crinkled and layered. And, because Ned had used real seashells and the store-bought sharks, his diorama looked professional. […]

    Sal's diorama looked great, too. […]

    In comparison, Billy felt that his project looked like it was made by a two-year-old.

    Sal watched Billy scrutinize his diorama. "Mine's better, she said. "Ned's, too." (2.2.24-28)

    Making art can be a mighty tough task, and comparison can be the enemy. Before Billy looks at Ned's and Sal's dioramas, he's feeling okay about his own, but once he gets a chance to hold his artwork up against his little sister's and his pal's, poor Billy feels like the pits. Why do you think the comparison is so harsh for Billy? How does comparison stifle his feelings of pride in his art?

    Laid out on the table in Papa's work area were several wooden cigar boxes. Each one had various items placed inside it. The inside of one resembled a landscape, another a city. One looked like a funny face with mismatched watch dial eyes, a doorknob nose, and a black plastic comb mustache. The boxes were in differing stages of completion. […]

    "They're dioramas!" said Billy. He grinned. "I helped you—I gave you the idea."

    "You did," said Papa, smiling. "And I thank you." (2.5.14, 16-17)

    Artists of the world, we'd like you to meet your newest muse: Billy Miller. He's chock-full of good ideas and he's ready to share them with artists like his dad. This collaborative effort makes us feel all warm and gooey inside, and it reminds us that sometimes inspiration doesn't come from within but from other people.

    "You tell a story with them. And you move them around. Like this." Sal slid off her bed, pulling the Drop Sisters with her. She placed them in a circle on the floor. She picked up Raindrop and swooped her back and froth through the air. "One day Raindrop flew. 'I'm a bird! I'm a bird!'" (3.4.28)

    If you think artistic talent is limited to the more mature characters in this book, then you've got another thing coming. There are loads of different ways to create art, and this is Sal's way: She likes to tell stories about her stuffed animals, the Drop Sisters, and she thinks the tales are pretty fantastic.

    Billy took the pillowcase, filled it with clothes from Sal's dresser, and bound the open end with one of her stretchy hair bands, twisting it around and around. He'd left several inches of cloth at the end; he fanned it out. "This is the tail," he said.

    Then he pushed and pulled and fluffed the stuffed pillowcase until it pleased him. "There," he said. "It's a whale. A big one."

    "It is," said Sal. "Who is it?"

    "This is—" Billy said, thinking fast. "This is—Coughdrop. He's the Drop Sisters' cousin. He usually lives at the aquarium. But he's here for a visit.

    "Coughdrop," said Sal, smiling. "I love him. Make him say something." (3.4.42-46)

    If Billy has learned one thing from his dad, it's that art comes in all sorts of forms. And can be made out of all sorts of materials. So when he whips up this pillowcase whale for Sal, complete with a story, we know that Billy's showing his artsy side. And Sal sure is a huge fan. But who wouldn't be when your newest pal is a pillow named Coughdrop?

    Writing a poem about Mama would not be easy to do. Ms. Silver said that the poems could be funny, but that they had to be appropriate. She said to think of the poems as a nice way to honor a special person. Billy wanted to make sure that whatever he wrote pleased Mama. But he also wanted to make sure that whatever he wrote wouldn't embarrass him when he read it in front of a roomful of people including adults and his classmates.

    Billy liked the rhythm and rhyming of limericks, but he thought it would be easier to write a haiku about Mama, or an acrostic. Or, he could write what Ms. Silver called free verse, which seemed to Billy to be ordinary writing just broken up into lines that were shorter than normal. (4.2.4-5)

    Billy is pretty practical when it comes to his poem. He's got a few criteria in mind: making his mom happy and not looking like a fool. And he's got to figure out how to bring both of these goals together in a poem, which is no easy feat. At least he's learning that there are lots of different types of poems, so he'll have his pick of the litter when it comes to writing one for the leading lady in his life.

    "I have an idea," said Ms. Silver. "I think you should take your journal home tonight. You should ask your mom what she likes. You could make a list of things. The list could be your poem. Or, maybe, there's something you and your mom do together. You could write about that."

    "Okay," said Billy. His eyes shifted down to his volcano drawings. He wasn't fond of homework in general, but it seemed even worse now that it was so close to the end of the school year. His mind was already focusing on summer vacation.

    "You've done some fine writing today," said Ms. Silver. "We can work again tomorrow."

    It really is work, thought Billy sadly. (4.2.32-35)

    Art is hard work, and this makes Billy sad. In fact, he seems pretty bummed about having to do homework for his poem when he gets home from school. Why do you think Billy is sad about art being "work"? Does his attitude toward art change by the end of the book?

    It's quiet but it's not, thought Billy. Then he thought of the dead bird, and all the noises mixed together and grew louder in his head. Mama squeezed his shoulders. "Of all the things I like, quiet might be my favorite."

    A light moved slowly across the sky, far, far away. A lot of what Mama had said sounded like a poem. Billy hoped he could remember enough of it to write something down. The world ticked and hummed and rushed around them. And they stood together a bit longer in the darkness. (4.3.41-42)

    By the end of book, Billy's attitude toward poetry has shifted. Not long ago he thought it was the worst work in the world, but Billy does a switcheroo when he discovers that writing poetry can happen just by paying a wee bit more attention to the world. Who knew there're so many things that can inspire a poem? Well with a little inspiration from his mom (and, you know, a dead bird), Billy's good to go.

  • Coming of Age

    "I wish I could go to school," said Sal.

    "You will," said Papa. "Soon enough."

    "I wish I could go now," said Sal.

    "I wish you could go for me," said Billy. (1.2.9-12)

    When it comes to growing up, sometimes Billy would rather stay put. But Sal is ready to go full force into elementary school. Right away, it's obvious that growing up might seem super fun or super scary, depending on who you ask. But we've got a feeling Billy might have a different attitude by the end of this little journey of his.

    Lately Billy had considered calling Papa "Dad" in public. He wondered if the word Papa sounded babyish. It was one thing for Ned to use it for fun, but another thing for Billy to use it for real. (1.2.19)

    Billy is only in second grade but he's already thinking about looking older—or at least not looking too young and "babyish." And he figures that calling his dad "Papa" is a sure fire way to look like a little kid instead of the strong second-grader he wants to be. Keep an eye out for other places where Billy's fear of looking "babyish" creeps up.

    Everything about this girl made it seem to Billy that she should be, at least, a third grader. She talked like an adult. She walked like an adult. And she wore her sweater tied around her waist, which for some reason seemed very adult. (1.3.9)

    Billy's convinced of one simple fact: Emma Sparks is like an adult in miniature. And he's got a pretty specific definition of what it means to be an adult—for Billy, it's all about the walk, the talk, and the clothes. According to our main man, then, maturity might not be about birthdays but about attitude. And boy does that Emma girl have some attitude.

    "Look what I can do."

    Sal bent over and grabbed a book from a stack on the porch. "I can read Mama's favorite book," she said. She held up a worn paperback copy of Pride and Prejudice.

    "You can't read that book," said Billy. The book was definitely for adults.

    "Yes, I can," said Sal. "Watch. I know the words a and I." (1.4.18-21)

    Sal is a three-year-old going on thirty, and it sounds like she just wants to shoot into adulthood and never look back. So when she learns how to find the words "a" and "I," this little lady feels like she's already hopped on the growing up bandwagon. And she's loving the ride.

    "Thank you, Papa!" yelled Billy.

    When he turned back to run into school, Emma was right there, like a shadow. "Papa?" she said.

    Billy blushed.

    "Papa?" she repeated. She rolled her eyes dramatically. "That is so babyish, I can hardly believe it." (2.3.75-78)

    Remember how Billy thinks that Emma acts like an adult? Well Emma thinks just the opposite of Billy. And she's got a word to describe our head honcho: "babyish." Yep, it's the same word that Billy thought earlier, and now Emma is flinging it in his face—and it stings. So now Billy is stuck looking like a little kid in front of the class bully, which isn't any fun. But if you ask us, Emma is also acting a bit immature. How do you think Emma is defining "babyish" here? And is she acting "babyish" in any ways herself?

    When Mama had come home from work, Billy and Papa had told her that Billy wanted to call her Mom from now on.

    "Really?" she'd said, a trace of sadness in her voice. "Really, truly?"

    Billy and Papa nodded at the same time.

    "I'm Dad," said Papa.

    Mama put her bag of school things on the floor, sat on a kitchen chair, and pulled Billy to her. She hugged him, and in the most natural way said, "I guess you're growing up."

    "Yup," he said, squirming away from the hug. (2.5.2-7)

    Mama knows that new names mean that her son is becoming an older kid right before her eyes. Sometimes this makes parents happy, and other times it's a super scary thought. How do you think Mama reacts? The narrator tells us that there's some "sadness in her voice," so we know she's not super thrilled. Do you think she's just sad or is she also happy? Maybe nostalgic? Are there any other emotions wrapped up in her tone?

    "Thank you, Papa, yes I am."

    "Hey, what about Dad? I thought I was Dad?"

    "Oh—" said Billy. "I forgot." He paused. He puckered his lips, then bit his lower one, released it. "I might forget sometimes," he admitted.

    "That's okay," said Papa. "You might forget what to call me, but I know you know who I am," he joked.

    Billy grabbed Papa's sleeve. He stared up at him. "Don't worry, Dad," he said. "I'll never forget you."

    "I'm not worried," said Papa. "Not one little bit." (2.5.35-40)

    So it turns out it might not be as easy for Billy to change his ways as he thought. In fact, growing up and into using a new name for his pops can be a bit challenging sometimes. But the good news is that names don't necessarily matter to Billy and Papa's relationship. In fact, they don't matter one bit—Billy can call his pops "Dad" or "Papa," but it won't impact how close this pair is.

    Billy sprang from his bed and bolted out of his room. He stopped suddenly. What should he do? Where should he go? He didn't want Gabby to think he was a baby. He fled down the hall and threw open the door. "Sal," he said, his voice soft, but frantic and breaking. "Sal, wake up." (3.3.36)

    Sometimes being scared can make us feel like we're a little kid again and Billy doesn't want to feel too young. Check out how that one word came up again: "baby." Sounds like Billy's biggest worry is looking like he's a baby in front of other people. But that has us wondering: Does being scared really make you a baby? How do you think Billy is defining growing up here?

    Emma leaned toward Billy and stared at his drawing. She made a sour face and said, "Why did you draw an instrument? For your information, we're not having a musical concert."

    Billy moved his drawing closer to his chest and tightened his grip on his marker. After months of sitting by her, Billy had learned that the best way to deal with Emma was to ignore her. But in his private thoughts, he said, "For your information, mind your own business." (4.4.20-21)

    One of the ways Billy grows up is by learning to control his temper, and that means learning to bite his tongue when Emma decides to dish out some rudeness. The thing is that Billy used to be super affected by what Emma had to say, but now even though he's angry, he doesn't totally seem as hurt either. Somebody's grown up quite a bit, we think.

    And then, because he felt so good, and because he could not stop himself, he leaned into the silent microphone and exclaimed in a voice meant just for Mama, "This is the Year of Billy Miller." (4.5.76)

    For Billy, it's been a year of growing up. And after a whole year devoted to becoming an older and better version of himself, our guy has made a lot of progress. Did you notice how he takes his dad's idea of this being "the Year of Billy Miller" and makes it his own? He's come of age in loads of ways, and in the end he's looking at that one year as a pretty cool time of going from "babyish" boy to suave second-grader.

  • Perseverance

    In the letter Ms. Silver greeted the students and said she was looking forward to the new school year. [...] She said that second grade would be "a safe, happy year of growth" and "a wonderful, joyful, exciting challenge."

    Billy stopped chewing when he heard the word challenge. He put down his fork and touched the lump on his head. He didn't want a challenge. (1.1.21-22)

    Right off the bat, we learn that Billy is a bit scared of the road ahead. Yep, he's nervous about the "challenge" of second grade. That word challenge can have positive connotations (a.k.a. a cookie-eating challenge) and some pretty scary meanings, too (a.k.a. a challenging math test). Since Ms. S says this will be a "joyful" challenge, we're thinking she's going with the more positive side of things. But it looks like Billy is a glass-half-empty kind of guy when it comes to thinking about his ability to persevere through the challenges ahead.

    The rabbit will be perfect, he thought, recalling that Ms. Silver had noted in her letter that this was the Year of the Rabbit. He picked it up, turned the little thing in his hand. It was only an inch and a half high. Billy shoved the rabbit into his pocket with his other silver things.

    His plan was to leave the silver items on Ms. Silver's desk. The gifts would be a way to show her that he was a nice person. He didn't think he could find the words to explain to her what he'd been doing with the red markers. He hoped this gesture would take care of the situation. (1.5.2-3)

    Billy is in a pickle: He's had a rough first day at school and is worried that he accidentally insulted his teacher. Yikes, that doesn't sound fun. So now he's got to work hard to find a way to make things right and persevere through some possible awkwardness with Ms. S. We can't help noticing that Billy also wants to avoid talking to Ms. Silver. What do you make of this? Is Billy trying to skate by with his silver doodads? Or is he making a serious effort?

    At first, Papa seemed jolly and had good suggestions to offer. He showed Billy how to replicate a cave by crumpling up a piece of gray construction paper, then smoothing it out and gluing it to the inside of the box. Because the paper was crisscrossed with folds and wrinkles, it really gave the shoe box the appearance of worn, silvery rock.

    Billy worked diligently. He had a vision in his head of how his diorama should turn out. He wanted to make three or four bats hanging from the top of the cave, and he wanted to make one big bat with its wings spread to look as if it were flying. (2.2.2-3)

    Billy is hard at work on his diorama, and he's got Papa as his partner-in-crime. We know that Billy's working hard here because, well, the narrator tells us so. But we also get some clues about exactly what is making this hard work so successful. And it looks like Billy's got some help from Papa and some creative imagination to get his diorama building off to a good start.

    "Do you need some help?" asked Papa.

    "No," said Billy. He wanted to do it on his own.

    "Okay," said Papa." Fine." The sharpness had returned to his voice.

    Billy finally cut out a bat that was acceptable, but he couldn't figure out how to attach it to the box and also make it appear as if it were flying, suspended in the air. "Now will you help me?" Billy asked Papa. (2.2.10-13)

    Remember how Billy seemed cool with getting his dad's help with his diorama at first? That fades pretty quickly. Now Billy wants to be Mr. Independent when it comes to making the big bat for his diorama. Ultimately, our main man figures out that asking for help isn't such a bad thing—heck, Papa helps him make a bat that looks like it's flying.

    "All right," said Papa, clapping his hands. "I wouldn't call it a breakthrough yet, but I've been working hard today. Because of you."

    Laid out on the table in Papa's work area were several wooden cigar boxes. Each one had various items placed inside it. The inside of one resembled a landscape, another a city. One looked like a funny face with mismatched watch dial eyes, a doorknob nose, and a black plastic comb mustache. The boxes were in differing stages of completion. (2.5.13-14)

    Billy isn't the only hard worker in this book. When it comes to perseverance, we know that Papa has that characteristic in the bag. Since he's an artist, he's always looking for inspiration and pushing through tough times when he doesn't know what to create. But he keeps on trying no matter what, and all that hard work starts to pay off when Billy helps his dad get a cool idea to make dioramas. Maybe hard work really just needs a second-grader as a sidekick sometimes.

    His eyelids were the problem—they were as heavy as steel. The situation was worse if he lay down, so he rose from his bed and paced around his room. But the bed was so inviting—soft, warm—that he couldn't help taking a break, allowing himself only to sit on it.

    He turned his bedside lamp off and on and off and on. He tried to read. He tried to draw. He tried counting backward from one thousand.

    He looked at the dragon stamp on the envelope from Ms. Silver. Then he took the pearl in his open palm and stared at it until it blurred. He pretended it really was magic. "Stay awake," he whispered. "Stay awake."

    Just then an idea came to him. Billy's idea was to scare himself so badly he couldn't sleep. (3.3.19-22)

    Billy's action plan is pretty impressive. He's working so hard to stay up and he's willing to try anything. And when we say anything, we mean it—he's even willing to scare himself silly if it means he'll have a chance of pulling his first all-nighter. Well one thing's for sure: Having so many different options for keeping himself awake shows us just how hard he's working to reach this goal.

    "We could play with the Drop Sisters," said Sal.

    "Will that keep you awake more than anything else?" asked Billy. He was willing to do whatever it took to achieve his goal.

    Sal nodded.

    "Okay," said Billy. (3.4.24-27)

    Billy wants to pull an all-nighter and he's in it for the long haul. Just check out that determination. He's ready to persevere through tired eyes, scary monster nightmares, and silly stories with his little sis. Did you notice how he doesn't even fight Sal about playing with the Drop Sisters? When she says that it'll help her stay up, he hops on the storytelling bandwagon.

    When he came back to Sal's room with the disappointing news that it was only 11:03, Sal was sleeping on the floor beside the Drop Sisters, her head on Coughdrop.

    Billy made very little effort to wake her. He made very little effort to do anything. He couldn't. All at once it felt as if his pajamas were made of lead. His legs could barely hold him up and it took everything he had in him to drag some blankets off Sal's bed, fall to the floor next to her, and cover both of them.

    He would give it one more try. He raised his head and opened his eyes as wide as he could. "Stay awake," he commanded himself. A swift, invisible hand pressed his head down and stitched his eyes shut. He tried to conjure up an image of the monster under his bed, but he didn't even have the energy for that. (3.4.54-56)

    Sometimes trying just isn't enough—check out all the ways that the narrator tells us Billy feels like he's fighting forces bigger than himself. But with those lead PJs and the "invisible hand" pushing him down, Billy doesn't stand a chance. In fact, it's almost as if Billy doesn't have any choice in the matter. What do you think about this? Is it simply impossible for Billy to persevere any further? Or could he have tried even harder?

    Billy was supposed to practice reading his poem aloud at home, but he didn't like practicing in front of Mama, Papa, or Sal. Mama thought he should practice in front of someone, so Papa pulled out his cello with the mannequin arms from his studio and moved it to Billy's room. "You can practice in front of this," said Papa. "I knew it would come in handy someday." […]

    Reading to Poetry Man was easier than reading to a real person. Billy practiced every day.

    Billy practiced every day at school, too. The second graders took turns reading their poems at the front of the room. (4.4.3-4)

    You know how the saying goes: Practice makes perfect. Well, Billy sure is taking this one to heart. And his practice time doesn't stop at school—he and his parents even work out a way for him to have an audience at home with Poetry Man (a.k.a. the cello with mannequin arms that Papa made). It's true that Billy hits some roadblocks in his practicing, like the fact that he doesn't want to do it in front of his family members, but with a creative bunch like the Millers, they find an easy way around that hurdle.

    He touched the silver netted top of the microphone and he could tell that the power was off. He swallowed. Before he could change his mind, he began to recite his poem from memory. He felt the first few words catch in his mouth and then they rolled out of him as easy as could be.

    He did it quickly, but he did it. When he was finished, he could hear the rush of blood in his ears. He felt light, as if he weighed next to nothing.

    He scanned the crowd for Mama, and he saw her instantly. She was right at the foot of the stage. Their eyes connected, and he knew that she'd been watching him. She'd heard him, even without the microphone on. She was smiling and nodding.

    Explosions like little volcanoes were going off inside him. He felt wonderful. Maybe he'd never felt better. (4.5.72-75)

    So Billy really wanted to recite his poem by heart, but we're sorry to report that he fumbled that one. Yep, he forgets every word and has to use to use the printed copy. But later he gets the chance to prove to himself that he can recite that poem like a champ, and he gets to show Mama, too, which makes victory all the sweeter. Billy's feeling so great that it has us wondering if this accidental goal ends up being way better than his original one.